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Long-term review: The new MacBook is a great travel laptop

Michael deAgonia | May 28, 2015
There are a lot of innovations crammed into Apple's latest MacBook, including a 12-in. Retina display, a new Force Touch trackpad, a full-size keyboard that's been redesigned to compensate for the device's size, the introduction of USB-C (a new USB standard featuring a reversible connection) and cleverly stacked batteries for maximum space efficiency. Also, for the first time, Apple is offering the MacBook in space gray, silver and gold, the same colors it offers in the iPhone and iPad lineup.

In use, the display produces text and graphics that are sharp and easy to read, even on the small screen and no matter which resolution you choose. Colors are crisp and bright. If you're accustomed to Apple's Retina displays, you shouldn't be disappointed.

Long battery life, reasonable performance

The MacBook features battery cells that have been designed to take up as much space within the device as possible. Apple states that you can get up to nine hours of Web browsing and 10 hours of movie playing, and my tests weren't that far off the mark. With light MacBook use, the battery lasted for days. As a continuous use test, I played a 55GB video file of all three Lord of the Rings extended cuts; I was able to watch the first nine and a half hours in iTunes before the battery cut out. (I could have squeezed more out of it, but I kept the display at 80% brightness and left features like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned on.)

The size and weight of the MacBook is fantastic for travel, but it comes at the expense of performance. The MacBook's speed is fine for tasks like Web browsing, email, editing text and even editing videos; throughout it all, the UI remains pretty responsive, mostly thanks to the PCIe-based system architecture and flash storage. However, the system trips up when it comes to processor-intensive tasks — so you can edit a movie using iMovie, but actually exporting the project will take a while.

I exported a couple of projects and compared the MacBook's timing to that of my 2013 15-in. MacBook Pro. The results weren't pretty: The first project, a three-minute video of my father chasing a stubborn rooster that I shot using a drone, took one minute and 34 seconds to export using the MacBook but only 46 seconds using the Pro. A complex 20-minute video assembled from family vacation footage exported in eight minutes and 49 seconds using the Pro, yet took nearly 40 minutes to export from the MacBook.

On the other hand, this computer is almost eerily silent; it makes zero noise. You will never have to worry about the sound of a fan whirring away or the click-clack of a hard drive being accessed.

Considering USB-C

One thing I will really miss is the MagSafe connector, which, because of its easy detachabilitly, has saved my bacon on many occasions in the past. The only physical connector on this computer is the USB-C port, which doesn't detach when pulled.

USB-C is nice. It will be better when it catches on and more peripherals use it. Meanwhile, users might find a need for an adapter or two, as that sole port is also used to power the machine.

 

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